At least we have a decent Constitutional Court

At least we have a decent Constitutional Court

On Monday night, when many Muslim believers were celebrating the Night of Qadr, the holiest night of the year, the breaking news came: The Constitutional Court annulled the law which had banned Turkey’s private tutoring centers, known as “dersanes.” This law was passed in March 2014, in the midst of a bitter political tension. The government, especially then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, was adamant about closing these dersanes, which he presented as degenerate centers that “exploited” students’ need for better preparation for university exams. 

The real issue, however, was not about education, but the political war between the AKP government and the Fethullah Gülen movement. The latter operated one-fourth of all dersanes all across Turkey, and partly as recruiting grounds. That is why Erdoğan, for whom the Gülen Movement had turned from best ally to worst enemy, wanted to “dry the swamp” by closing all dersanes and to shrink the movement in the long run.

At the time, I was among the people who opposed this law. For me, the matter was not to side with the AKP or the Gülen Movement, but the basic rules of liberal democracy. Governments cannot close down private educational institutions at their will, I argued simply. As a parent, I can send my child on the weekend to a dersane, or a swimming club, or a karate class. It is between me and the private sector, whereas the government should only mind its own business, which is to improve its own schools.

Now, more than a year later, during which many dersanes were forced to “transform” themselves into private schools, the Constitutional Court annulled the law thanks to an appeal from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), making pro-government circles angry and giving a sense of relief to others, especially dersane owners. We don’t know the full details of the decision, which has not yet been officially announced, but I can already say that it is a good sign for the future of rule of law in Turkey.

Here is why. In the past two-three years, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, and especially Erdoğan, had developed a political narrative in which the “national will” was supposed to the unbound by any limit. This glorious “will,” which had culminated in the persona of Erdoğan himself, was deemed above any other value. Moreover, this triumphalism was presented to us as the height of “democracy.” 

It was, in fact, nothing but the tyranny of the majority. His political war with the Gülen Movement gave Erdoğan the justification to take this glorious “will” above the judiciary as well. Since the judiciary was full of “parallel” spies, the government had the right to block its investigations, and to redesign the judiciary from the scratch. 

Luckily, though, the Constitutional Court has remained largely untouched by this political madness, and kept on giving EU-compatible decisions that fully pleased no political camp. The court, for example, gave decisions that led to the release of “Sledgehammer” suspects and former police chief Hanefi Avcı, the victims of the “anti-coup” witch-hunt for which the Gülen Movement is widely believed to be responsible. On the other hand, it blocked the government’s decisions to censor social media at its will.

That is why I am happy to see that, within our uninspiring political scene, we Turks at least have a decent Constitutional Court. We need to protect it from those who may try to make it submit to the “national will,” or any other authoritarian ambition.